2 Comments 06 May 2014


By Maribel Castillo


WHILE on a cruise to Alaska, my husband and I met many Filipino workers — now hailed as modern-day heroes of the Philippines — who endure many months at sea to support their families and help keep the nation’s economy afloat. alaska cruise4_550alaska cruise maribel2_550alaska cruise-maribel4_550Comprising almost half of the ship’s staff, Filipinos work as waiters, chefs, retail clerks, spa staff, fitness directors, cruise ship entertainers, lifeguards, production managers, host staff, kitchen staff, cruise ship bartenders, cruise casino workers, security workers, beauticians, excursion organizers, customer service representatives, deckhands, even as ship doctor. Manuel Carlos was the handsome Filipino maitre’ d at our favorite Italian restaurant of the Norwegian Sun. Here is his story.

THE plot is familiar, reminiscent of the teleseryes so popular among Philippine TV viewers. Manuel Carlos (not his real name) was one of seven children of a petty bureaucrat and a homemaker from Binangonan, Rizal. His mother often resorted to creative ways of stretching her husband’s meager earnings to feed and raise a brood of seven. “We were so poor that my parents could not afford to give us an allowance while we attended high school. I walked to school every day so I could save on jeepney fare,” Manuel recalls. “In December, when all my schoolmates got new clothes for Christmas, I had to make do with khakis, the single pair of pants that I would wear every day the entire school year until I outgrew it.”

Early on, Manuel’s mother urged her children to seek their fortunes elsewhere. “Hangarin ninyong lumayo upang kayo ay umasenso”. This is the sorry lot of the poor and the lower middle class in the Philippines. For many, there is only one way to pull themselves out of the rut of poverty. They must tear themselves away from all that they hold dear: family, friends, familiar surroundings, country.

Manuel Carlos is one of those wanderers, among the growing number of OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers) who are fortunate enough to land a job abroad. Manuel works with one of the world’s large fleets of luxury ocean liners. He is a veteran of the sea, having worked with Norwegian Cruise Lines for 15 years now.

A marketing graduate, Manuel started out as a detail man for a pharmaceuticals firm in Manila. Heeding his mother’s advice, he did a brief stint in Saudi Arabia as a bank clerk. Back in the Philippines, married and with a growing family, Manuel realized he would never be able to send his kids to college on a clerk’s income.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

Noted for their hospitality and friendly disposition, Filipinos excel as waitresses and chambermaids on cruise ships.

So, with hope in his heart, he endured the long lineups in a narrow alley close to the recruiter’s office in Intramuros, hoping to land a job – any job – with one of the cruise lines. Like many others before him, after two long months of patiently waiting in line by the recruiter’s office, he landed his first contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines. In 1994, he started out at the lowest rung of the ladder, working as a mess man in NCL. Manuel spent the next 10 months at sea, catering to the whims of vacationers who dined and wined on board ship as if there were no tomorrow. The hours were long, the pace gruelling and the nights lonely. But he was ecstatic. For the first time in his life, he had savings, and with it he satisfied the elusive dream of owning his own car. “I never imagined I would be driving my own car. I couldn’t even afford jeepney fare when I was a student!”

Several contracts later, Manny realized his family needed more stability. His family was growing. His wife Shirley had borne him three children. He decided to take the plunge and make the ultimate Filipino dream a reality. With his savings and proceeds from the sale of his car, Manny bought a small plot of land in a residential subdivision in Binangonan, Rizal. With his status as an OFW, Sam joined the government’s PAG-IBIG housing program and obtained a half million-peso housing loan, which was released in three batches after submitting photos of ongoing construction. The house was finally completed when Manuel was back at sea. He could barely believe his good fortune until his wife sent snapshots of the two-level, three-bedroom concrete house. He was, at last, a homeowner.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

Filipinos are in great demand around the world for their musicality and singing prowess.

The years with NCL have been a financial godsend to Manuel, Shirley and kids. Manuel eventually rose up the ladder. He was promoted to the post of assistant MD (Maitre’d). His children are all enrolled in private schools, Manuel declares proudly. Chelsea, 19, is a nursing student at Far Eastern University. Matthew, 17, is a computer science student in Taytay, Rizal. Nathan, 14, is still in high school.

On the surface, all seemed well. But the long months at sea, away from the warm embrace of family, had taken its toll. Young, good-looking and virile, Manuel succumbed to passion and started a four-year affair with a Filipina waitress on the same ship. The relationship bore him a son, now 6 years old. At the time, Manuel basked in his notoriety as the ship’s Pinoy Casanova. Temptation was rife. There were many other lonely women workers on board ship. He started a liaison with another co-worker, with whom he also conceived a child. His two paramours were locked in bitter combat. Sadly, his second lover miscarried.

Back home, his wife Shirley shed many tears, but could not break off with Manuel because she had no income and would be unable to support herself and the children without her husband’s remittances.

It was Chelsea, his eldest daughter, who found the guts to tell him to his face: “You have made my mother miserable. She cries every day. Don’t show your face to us. My father is dead.”

This was Manuel’s wake-up call. He agonized for several weeks trying to sort his life out. That’s when he decided to become a Born-Again Christian. He made a decision to cut off his extra-marital relationships. Twice a week, after his last shift at 11 PM, he joins the Christian fellowship on the ship and spends two hours reading the Bible. He now preaches how to tread the straight and narrow to his fellow workers. He says he has found the courage to resist temptation.

Manuel has now mended the rift with his family. His wife Shirley has been magnanimous in her forgiveness. When Manuel comes home for his 2-month vacation, she will welcome his young son by his paramour into her home. The boy is the spitting image of his father, a reminder of his past transgressions, but also a symbol of the healing that has started to repair family ties broken by the tough challenges posed by being an absentee husband and father.






Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Manny says:

    I am a resident of Vancouver and have done cruises before, on NCL and RCCL. My family just loves to cruise. We did the Alaska trip as well. Lately, it’s just me and my wife as the kids are no longer kids and they go on their own adventures without us. Since we have relatives in California, instead of driving or flying to LA, we take the cruise going there and fly back. Last year, we were there four times. I agree with your observations and enjoyed the narrative. Every time we go on a cruise, I take every opportunity to meet with the Filipino crew and chat with them about life on sea and how lucky they are. That’s when they told me their own individual stories. They are heroes indeed, but unfortunately, there is price to pay. Loneliness, boredom, separation, cheating spouses (on both ends) and so on. One time, I pointed to my wife, a beautiful young Pinay and a Pinoy who had been serving us, were kissing behind the door by the cafeteria. His hands were in her private parts. They failed to notice us at first, but when they did, they immediately stopped. I was concerned they would be fired if they get caught. I’ve spoken to both earlier so they recognized me and both were embarrassed. The guy was married and has been with the company for 10 years. The pretty young girl has a boyfriend back home, but I guess, long lonely periods have their effects on her. She was somewhat flirty when she came to my table when I was there by myself to chat. She seemed to be looking for someone to fill her lonely hours on the ship. I was happy that these people were employed and making money for their families, but the temptations surely are there. Thank you for relating the entire story with a good ending. I am impressed as to how you were able to get details out of the guy.

  2. Tina says:

    I used to work on a cruise ship and believe me when i tell you that 98% of staff betray their families. And no – this number is not exaggerated. And they are from all over the world. They do so because they think nobody will find out and they actually enjoy their double lives. They will even tell lies about their spouses or not even mention them to their sexpartners onboard. You do not have to feel sorry for them nor is there any excuse for their behavior. They are just plain selfish. That is the whole Story. They do not tell their Partners about the betrayel because they do not want to be treated like they treat them. They want to cheat but expect their Partners to be loyal. And not enough that this guy betrayed his Family. He even dared to bring the other child to his Family house. Not only did the wife have to suffer for so many years but now she is supposed to look into this bastards face and be reminded of it for the rest of her life? Bravo! What a man – he did not learn at all. He keeps being selfish and torturing his wife. What is she supposed to do now. As you said she has no income and can’t go nowhere.
    The only reason ship People mention their families is when they want to appear responsible hoping for better tip or Promotion. Do not believe their lies.

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